The freezing temperatures during an Oklahoma winter can wreak havoc for homeowners and business owners. It’s easy to focus on the obvious culprits of wintertime issues, such as higher electric costs and broken plumbing—while overlooking other areas. But the freeze-and-thaw cycle can also cause another problem to develop long after the cold weather has subsided: frost heaving.
While you may not have heard of frost heaving, it’s all too common, and it can result in major problems for your foundation. Understanding what frost heaving is and how it occurs can help you reduce its damaging effects in the future, saving hundreds or thousands of dollars in costly foundation repairs.
So, What Exactly Is Frost Heaving, and Why Is It a Problem?
Simply put, frost heaving is the upward swelling of soil due to icy conditions—which puts pressure on a building’s concrete slab.
Over time, the repeated pressure from frost heaving does great damage to the foundations of homes and businesses. So, it’s helpful to understand what causes this phenomenon and how to prevent it. Here’s a closer look.
How Frost Heaving Occurs
When winter weather temperatures reach freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit) and below, the winter air begins to affect the top layers of the earth. When moisture in the soil freezes and becomes ice, it also expands—in fact, its size grows to a little over 9% greater than when the water was in a liquid state.
Of course, what this means is that the ice formation pushes on everything around it. As moisture from further below the surface naturally moves upward, additional ice formation occurs—and so does more movement. This process lifts dirt, tree roots, plants, rocks, and any other material in the earth up toward the surface of the ground.
And this puts pressure on your foundation, which can cause damage.
Repeated Freeze-and-Thaw Cycles Make the Problem Worse
When temperatures fluctuate a lot—a common winter and spring phenomenon in Oklahoma—frost heaving can actually become even more problematic.
As temperatures rise above freezing, the ice in the ground liquefies, leaving gaps in the soil below your foundation. More moisture can be drawn into those gaps. Then, when things freeze again, the increased moisture in the soil leads to an even greater volume of ice. The motion of the soil upward—the frost heaving—becomes more pronounced.
This cycle can occur over and over, causing more and more damage to your foundation. No matter how you look at it, frost heaving is bad news for the structural integrity of homes and businesses.
What Makes Frost Heaving More Likely to Affect a Foundation?
Regardless of the region of the country, problems with frost heaving can take place. However, certain criteria make it more likely to affect your home or commercial building.
When temperatures are consistently low enough to cause the top layers of the soil to freeze, the process of frost heaving begins.
Moisture and Humidity
If there is a high percentage of moisture present in the earth below a foundation, expansion of the soil is more likely to occur.
The type of earth in your region can make it more susceptible to frost. Soil that contains higher percentages of moisture like clay, sandy loam, and silt are the most at risk.
The Outlook for Oklahoma
As you can see, homes in our state experience all the elements that contribute to frost heaving. Even though we don’t get a lot of snow or ice, our cold winters, up-and-down temperatures, clay soil, frequent rains, and high humidity all add up to potential foundation damage. So, taking preventative measures is important.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Frost Heaving?
Avoiding the detrimental effects frost heaving can have on a foundation can be achieved in several ways:
Add frost heaving prevention systems, like a hydronic heating system
Install boilers, which warm your house using hot water rather than hot air, the way a furnace does. As hot liquid or steam is sent through radiators, coils, or radiant floor systems, it not only heats your home but also keeps the earth below the surface of the building warm.
Extend foundation piers below the frost line
Make sure your foundation piers reach deep enough into the earth that they’re not affected by freeze-and-thaw cycles. If you’re not sure whether your home has proper pre-construction piers, have an inspection. Piers can always be added to create more support for your concrete slab.
Enhance water drainage systems
Add backfill materials such as gravel around the foundation of your home or business to encourage more effective water drainage.
Use sleeves to avoid ice from gripping the concrete
Wrap concrete foundation posts in plenty of insulation (aka insulation sleeves) to protect them from cracking or wearing away due to exposure to moisture.
Construct proper footing that will withstand upward movement
Footings are an important part of foundation construction—made of concrete with rebar reinforcement poured into an excavated trench. Footings support the foundation, prevent settling, and help reduce and eliminate incidences of frost heaving.
Stabilize the soil
Modify or even replace the earth around your foundation with a soil that is less likely to develop frost heaving. This may not be an easy option, but certain polymers can be injected into the ground to stabilize the earth and keep it from getting too saturated with moisture in the future.
Get Peace of Mind about Your Foundation
In spite of Oklahoma’s constantly changing weather conditions, your home’s foundation can stay secure with the right preventative measures. Contact Eden’s Structural to assess your property and install foundation piers that will keep your home firmly in place and structurally sound.